I was somewhat surprised to find open parking spaces. I arrived at the parking area just after 6 am. The main parking area for Cascade and Pitchoff mountains was full, so I did have to park in one of the other parking areas just west of the main area. Even those were filling up fast. It added less than a 10th of a mile walking distance, no big deal.
I signed in on the west end trailhead and was soon on my way; it was 6:15—a nice crisp morning with clear blue skies, perfect. The trail starts roughly for us short-legged humans. The steps up from the road have a significant rise to them, but we made it.
The first part of the trail is rough-looking and unnecessarily wide. This is a clear sign of overuse and people just not staying on the trail. This would be prevalent in a few other areas, making it hard to follow the actual trail. The trail immediately starts to climb up until the ridge that it follows. There are some neat lookouts along the way, offering views of Cascade Mountain and Cascade Lake below. It was a while before I got up in elevation enough and away from the road before I could no longer hear the traffic passing by below.
There are sections of this trail that I liked. I knew there was a steep section, was unsure when or where to expect it, but I knew it was before the Balanced Rock side trail. I think it was just past the third lookout before I came to the first scramble. This was fun! It was not a typical, monotonous trail; this trail had some cool features to it. Once I got above the first scramble, the trail skirts around to the left a bit before it brings you to the next scramble. I call it a scramble; in fact, I counted four total, perhaps they are not technically scrambling per se, but they make you work to get them up.
I continued around to the left with several ups and downs, eventually making my way to what turned out to be the last scramble before the junction on the ridge. Each scramble was short-lived but definitely got the blood pumping. Soon I was on the ridge and made my way to the Balanced Rocks lookout. Here I would take a little break, enjoy the views. I spent about 20 minutes relaxing in the sun, spying hikers on top of Cascade Mountain.
I eventually packed up and started towards my destination, Pitchoff Mountain. I ran into the first hikers heading towards Balanced Rocks. I did not see them again, so they apparently only hiked for those views.
The trail over to Pitchoff is nothing like the trail below the ridge. There are some ups and downs, but nothing as long-lasting as the scrambles. There are still a few more views along the ridge walk to Pitchoff, but literally no views from the actual summit. Just beyond the summit on the right was a lookout that offered some views as well. I had arrived at the summit at 10:26.
I only stayed for a few minutes before heading down. I passed several upbound couples and had a nice conversation with a hiker at the bottom of one of the scrambles. Always nice to meet those who truly enjoy and respect the outdoors.
I logged just under 3.5 miles roundtrip and 1350’ of elevation gain.